Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 8 September 2020
We have followed with increasing concern numerous instances of incitement to violence – online and offline – against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan, in particular against women and minorities. Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy – which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence.
Pakistani women journalists last month publicly warned of what they described as a "coordinated campaign" of social media attacks against those who have been critical of Government policies. In one such case, journalist and human rights defender Marvi Sirmed has received numerous messages on social media containing highly derogatory and violent language, including gender-based slurs and death threats. Accusations of blasphemy on social media were followed by actual police complaints filed against Sirmed, whose personal details were also revealed on Twitter.
Last year, at least four journalists and bloggers were killed in connection with their reporting. Among them was Arooj Iqbal, a woman who was shot dead in Lahore as she sought to launch her own local newspaper. Last Saturday (5 September), journalist Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead by unidentified men in Balochistan's Kech district.
In the vast majority of such cases, those responsible have not been investigated, prosecuted and held to account.
We have raised our concerns directly with the Government and we have urged immediate, concrete steps to ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats. We also stress the need for prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations with a view to ensuring accountability in cases of violence and killings. Victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations. We welcome that in the case of Shaheen, a number of high-level Government officials have condemned the murder and pledged to bring to justice the perpetrators.
We call on the leadership to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against religious minorities and what appears to be an increase in the use of blasphemy laws for personal or political score-settling. We call on them to encourage respect for diversity of opinion.
We encourage the Government to address impediments to the active protection of the right to freedom of expression, including by carrying out legal reforms such as those recommended by the UN Human Rights Committee and other international human rights mechanisms.*
* The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reviewed Pakistan in 2017.
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